Monday, June 29, 2015

#InsideOut (Or-who’s-at-your-console-right-now?)

Tell me you’re not governed by your emotions and I’ll tell you two things
1. I’m a direct descendent of Cleopatra the Queen
2.I live in Alaska. (So.. ha!)

I managed to catch this movie over the weekend. It’s one of those clever Pixar productions that let you enjoy the film when you are watching it but set you thinking on your way home and don’t allow you to stop pondering on it for a long time.

Let’s get one thing straight though. It is a 3D Animation film, but the child-rating ends there.  This is for adults too. It’s about how we behave (as adults) all the time – no matter how old we are. (In fact it’s how even dogs and cats behave! What a brilliant touch that… at the end! But I’m jumping the gun here)

So the little girl is Riley and all’s well in her world – or so we think. Because her world is fine but the world inside her head is just about to go absolutely haywire. Bring in just five emotions at the console in her head – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust and a change of place -from Minnesota to San Francisco- and there ensues mayhem.

I won’t go into details of what happens, but how things happen is a fascinating journey of the emotions in the mind and the mind of the emotions.

The film gives you a deeper insight into memories – core memories, long-term, short-term and how in an intricate labyrinth inside the head the functioning of the various islands is managed brilliantly by the different emotions. Joy takes centre-stage here. With her buoyant personality, her brilliantly cropped blue hair and her bare feet, she’s always positive about turning things around. This is, of course, versus Sadness whose blueness (literally and otherwise) can dampen or sadden even a happy memory.  And not very surprisingly that blueness does not change back to its original golden yellow. Well… we’ve heard of song sung blue, everybody knows one!

I do know there are several posts doing the rounds of how correct or incorrect the references to memory and emotions are. But I’d park that aside. Isn’t it brilliant how the five emotions sit at the console and fight their way through the day and get busier at night when Riley goes to sleep? What’s even more amazing is the way long-term memory is looked into and those two characters that, while in charge of long-term memory, suddenly revive one and send it back into the consciousness. Very much like the stupid songs in your head that you remember suddenly and they refuse to leave!

I don’t know about you but the film sparked my imagination and I now am certain I have a larger, more complicated console. There’s of course Sarcasm in a brilliant orange definitely sporting a Lancome Rouge in Love (170N –just in case you’re in Duty-free!) and there’s Envy in a greener green than Disgust, getting more lurid every time I see a fabulous pair of shoes. Then I have Despair, who is Midnight Blue and gives my Sadness a run for her blue money. Despair’s Midnight Blue strikes especially hard when I meet some moronic characters who I think have no hope. Fortunately Sarcasm steps in with her flaming hair to save the day. I do have (oh my) Goodness but she lurks in a dull grey in a corner and is not allowed to come much to the fore thanks to Sarcasm and Anger. Now Anger is another one coming on to the console in full glory. When I drive, Anger is at the console, and believe me, it helps.

What’s not really right in the #InsideOut business inside my head is the Memory Dump. My tiny two characters who are in charge are a tad bit inefficient and seem to send the wrong bits to the dump – things that don’t go to short-term or long-term memory – but land up in that endless black hole – the dump. Fortunately, for me, I don’t give it much thought  (largely because I cannot remember) and also because my Joy is a nice sunshine yellow – and steps in at the least provocation (not barefeet – but wearing new shoes) and makes everything nice and yellow and happy.

But coming back to Riley and the film, it’s really touching that in the end you do need a bit of Sadness and that light blue tinge to make everything right! You really have to watch this film – the animation is spectacular. And the imagination - really commendable. Mind blowing, would be a better word I guess.

It’s a brilliant lesson in Psychology and especially if you want to figure what’s happening at your console, you need to see it. I am going again – so that this does not go into my Memory Dump. (Oh! I can already see Joy doing a little jig there!)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - a Review

Once in a while you read a book that scrapes a raw nerve right in the centre of  your heart and leaves it exposed and bleeding… for all times to come.The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is one such book. Filed under ‘a-book-for-keeps’ category, it’s a book that is dramatic in its simplicity, mature in its innocence and heartrending in its factual tone and manner.

There are enough books, reports, films and recordings of the gruesomeness of war but not many take the unique perspective that this one takes. Set in the time of the second world war, it’s a look at Germany from the viewpoint of innocence – through the eyes of a nine-year old boy Bruno.

As the family moves to another location, the import of which import Bruno does not understand right till the very end, Bruno struggles with the curiosity and loneliness of a boy his age and over a period of time makes friends with a boy ‘across the fence’ who shares the same birthday as his. How much different could they be, he wonders, and yet his new friend is on the other side of the fence and they cannot really play together.

What the book brings out in its stark innocence is the horrors of the war, the unsaid atrocities of the Holocaust and the simple truth that sometimes the ones who get caught in the crossfire of an adult issue are children.

For a nine-year-old boy who lives in the midst of a warring nation – being shielded from the gruesome aspects of war is the very reason why he himself becomes the victim of it. The end is almost anti-climactic in its simplicity. The naivete of the two boys as they promise to remain ‘friends for life’ pulls violently at the heartstrings as darkness descends.

The book in its sheer simplicity ends with these telling words, “Of course all this happened a long time ago. And nothing like this can ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”

Yes may be. Not on this scale but if you come down to warring adults and innocent children, it does continue.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a must-read for every adult. It’s a must-reflect-on, must-think-about, must-not-ever-forget kind of a book. Like I said in the beginning, it exposes a raw nerve and leaves it like that. But I am glad I own a copy. Thanks NB.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I like the rain

I like the rain.

The June-July-August rain. When it has set into the season in its full glory. The monsoons. The monsoon. Rainy season. Whatever you call it. Unlike a lot of people I know, I like the rain in Mumbai.

It took me two hours to get to work today. But I like the rain. And just about everything associated with it.

It pounded on the roof of my car, splashed at me from oncoming traffic, got swept away by my efficient wipers and relentlessly blocked my vision, I smiled and thought to myself – I like the rain.

I like the rain as it washes away the dirt and grime of this city. I like the muddied water as it runs down in thick rivulets across and by the side of the roads. It’s almost like the rain is frantically trying to clean up the mess that city has made in the past 8 months and has been given a short span of 3-4 months (with dry spells thrown in) to make it all better. And as hopeless as it seems I like that the rain is doing its utmost to bring the city back to its clean self again.

But I know in a city like Mumbai, the rain shields so much, covers so much, blinds so much. And if anything understands this city it’s the rain. The rain sees through the dark side of the city, empathizes with the painful side, equalizes the inequality with one heavy shower and pounds on rich or poor alike.

Overcast, cloudy, grey, black, dull and dreary, the rain is witness to all the city’s dark, dingy misdoings. It creeps its way through dimly lit alleyways and runs through the murky menagerie of human existence. It settles in patches of the underworld, treating the dons and underdogs alike, all covered with the same muddy splashes, all stepping into the same morass of morality, or immorality. I like the rain in all its darkness.

On the outside, someone is crying. But the rain sends a wet protective cover and cries along - with the woman who has lost her house, the man who has lost his job and the brutalized young girl who has lost her faith in humanity. I like the rain as it cries with us.
In the relentless pounding , you don’t hear the cries of the wronged woman or the abused child. It’s all part of the dinning sound that helps this city move on heartlessly to its next destination, next job, next day.

And here comes the rain again. It still tries to do good. Brings new leaf, new colour, to the dust-covered smoke-filled, smog-inhaling trees, unveiling the clear tropical green in the few patches that they still survive. Against a mundane grey backdrop of rain-soaked high rises the glisten of the green gives me new hope. I like the hope of rain.

And then the skies darken again. There’s a deafening peal of thunder and it starts pounding relentlessly on my roof, making silent the music that’s playing in my car, almost insisting I listen to its own drum roll instead. The car fogs up again shielding me from what the rain is shielding from the city – and I watch as the dirt and the grime and the dark, dingy underworld, gets yet another washing.

I do like the rain.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The culture wall. Time to break it!

When you are entrenched in a global marketplace you can’t but help meet, interact and work closely with people of different countries. But does working across boundaries mean a global mindset?

But what we look at as geographical boundaries are actually huge cultural walls. Breaking through these walls with the right awareness, understanding and communication skills is the trick to a truly global mindset.

I am increasingly getting steeped in culture, cultural differences, challenges and the issues culture brings to the workplace. It’s the elephant in the room – looming large as the world becomes a smaller place. And now the elephant has begun to raise its trunk and people are sitting up and taking notice. However taking notice does not tell anyone what to do about it.

The bricks of miscommunication
It’s important at the outset to even acknowledge that there are going to be cultural differences. The second important thing to note is that while it’s called a cultural difference the manifestation is not an outward gesture, it occurs largely in communication – or rather miscommunication. And that’s what builds a wall. It’s built with bricks of misinterpretation, miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Indeed, India is at a huge disadvantage here. Look at the young English-speaking, pizza-eating, mobile-toting crowd and you’ll find that they can be largely compared to the youth of the west. And yet our cultural traits are such that we are at a huge variance from the rest of the world, creating a hotbed of communication conflict. All, unfortunately in the same language.

You speak English?
Let’s look only at English as a language here. English is a second language for most Indians. We have done our entire education in English. For a large number of urban Indians, English is more a native language than our respective mother tongues. For instance, how many of us can read or write our Indian mother tongue and the accompanying script? How many of us speak our mother tongue more than we speak English? And finally, how many of us even think in our own language? We speak, read, write, think and even dream in English. But how close are we to, forget the rest of the Europeans, even the English? Probably as far apart as we are geographically.

Because we speak English our culture is mistaken to be like the English culture. But our DNA does not change because of a deeply entrenched foreign language. Nor does the 5000-year old cultural nuance. Our social norms remain the same. Our mindset unchanged. In that respect the Asian and European nations that speak a different language are at an advantage here. People ‘expect’ them to behave differently.  And also ‘accept’ the difference. Indians who speak English however are mostly misunderstood. We speak pure English, then go on to behave in a purely Indian manner. And this is the stuff that makes the wall bigger, taller, wider.

Breaking the wall
It’s time to take it down. But it’s not enough to want to. What is an absolute must is first to accept that there exists one, second to know that we are on two opposite sides of the wall and the third is the willingness to create a doorway through the wall – a passage so to speak – for the two cultures to come halfway to accepting and acknowledging differences and ready to work with them. That will be the essential first step to the crumbling of the wall. And the first glimpse of what is truly a global mindset.

(And you’ll hear more of this from me.)